Taormina takes solace in knowing she didn't quit on her Olympic dream

BEIJING -- When Sheila Taormina has time to let this final Olympics marinate, she'll think of Sudee and Liangliang fondly.

The sword, however, is something she'll try to forget.

Taormina's dismal fencing performance dashed any hopes the American had for medaling Friday night in women's modern pentathlon. The 39-year-old Livonia, Mich., native, the first woman to qualify for the Olympics in three different sports, finished last in fencing and ended up 19th overall in the 36-person field.

Taormina set a record in the swimming event -- she swam on a gold-medal relay team in Atlanta in '96 -- and tied for first in show jumping with the help of a horse named Liangliang.

But earlier in the day, she felt like giving up.

"I could barely stay in my own skin," Taormina said of the thoughts going through her head when she was fencing. "I said to myself, 'There's no way I could do that poorly.'

"I was thinking, 'Get me out of here.'"

Taormina looked up in the stands and saw her sister Sudee, who is 16 years older than her. Sudee encouraged her to keep going, and Taormina finished late Friday evening with the 3,000-meter run.

The modern pentathlon is a one-day event with five disciplines -- swimming, running, show jumping, fencing and shooting. Taormina had to learn three events in three years to get ready for Beijing.

Germany's Lena Schoneborn won the gold medal Friday night with a score of 5,792 -- 488 points ahead of Taormina. Margaux Isaksen, 16, finished 21st for the Americans.

Taormina said Isaksen is like "a sister" to her after they roomed together and trained for the grueling event.

"She's going to win a gold medal someday," Taormina said. "When she's finished in 20 years, I'll be 60."

Despite her fatigue, Taormina remained her usual perky self late Friday. She said her parents, who are in their 80s, saw her compete in the pentathlon for the first time Friday. Her mother was so nervous about the riding portion that she had to watch it on video.

Taormina was so determined to make Olympic history, she initially tried to pick up cross-country skiing. When the pentathlon was over late Friday, she said the last three years "have not been fun." But she had no regrets.

She said she wants to write a book. She said she's tired.

"It's been an exhausting juggling act," she said. "I'm 39½ years old. I just want to sit with my family without having to rush to a workout.

"I did it. I didn't quit."

Elizabeth Merrill writes for ESPN.com. She can be reached at merrill2323@hotmail.com.